Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What does Diversity mean to you?

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Derek Lee McPhatter.

Indie Theater is, in my opinion, the artsy, gutsy creative, risk-taking counterpart to more mainstream and institutionalized Theater. 

As such, the Indie Theater scene enters the “diversity” conversation on different ground from Broadway.  And in terms of diversity, its been my experience that many of the movers and shakers in Indie Theater are there precisely because the kind of theater they are doing, or the sort of background/perspective they bring to the table isn’t being supported by the Big Shots…

The force behind diversity is a commitment to INCLUSION.  So, as a person of color and whatnot, I have some questions for the IT Awards crowd…

What does Diversity mean to you? And how would you think about diversity issues if there was no such thing as a Black History Month?,  Women’s History Month, Gay Pride, etc. etc.? 

Also, what sort of Perspectives/Communities do you feel are NOT included in the Indie Theater community?  What should/could happen to change that?

I’m sitting here at my computer trying to answer these questions myself, and I’ll be interested to see what you all have to say.


  1. I do think we see more diversity on Indy stages than in on other stages in terms of genre, themes, style, etc. but when it comes to racial and ethnic diversity I'm not seeing a whole lot of it.

    Or I see people of a given race or background glomming together to create art that is specific to them. Which is great and should be encouraged certainly, but unfortunately there is not a lot of diversity in general in our productions.

    That's where I think we could start to make change.

  2. Many years ago I worked at a small theatre called Touchstone Theatre in Pennsylvania. It was located in a somewhat depressed area of town but near Lehigh University. While the company did attract some of the students, their real impact was in the community, which was made up of mostly Latin immigrants.

    Their focus was on avant garde, performer created work, but they also reached out to the community and built programs around the histories of the town and the stories of the people who lived there. I always thought that that is where their real success came from.

    They have continued to grow and even when many arts institutions have struggled, they have thrived because they are so connected to the neighborhoods that surround them.

    I've always thought that OOB was in a perfect place to make this same kind of impact and engage the racial and cultural diversity around us.

  3. Hey it's Derek. Thanks for your thoughts Shay and Aaron.

    On Aaron - I completely agree with your thoughts here. I do think Indie Theater as a whole does enable shows/projects from different communities, but as whole things are segregated. For example, I can go for a an evening of East Asian Theatre, or Black Theater, or Specifically Queer Nigerian Theater, etc. etc. And this tends to attract audiences in that specific ethnic/social community.

    And to Shay's point. Community-based theater projects really are a strong way to engage audiences, and grow.That's an awesome example. What kind of community-based projects would you like to see in NYC neighborhoods?

    I wonder, how can Indie Theater be the site for a more integrated experience? How does an evening of Latino Theater, for example, reach/engage an audience that is not necessarily Latino? Does this already happen? How? What kind of theater projects can foster integrated artistic and audience communities? Thoughts? Examples? (I have a few of my own, but I want to hear from you).

  4. Their programs definitely helped build an audience base, but even more interesting is that many of their programs helped build artists. By working with the community groups, they mined material (stories, characters, ideas) for new works and found people in the community who helped write and perform many of the works that where developed with the core ensemble into full productions and some eventually toured.

    So they reached far beyond their community.

  5. When we have tried to recruit diverse performers we find that they are usually in high demand and can not commit to our productions.

    Despite a lot of effort, we've been frustrated by this. Suggestions?

  6. The Neo-Futurists have had this problem as well - our brilliant artists of color are lured away by wonderful opportunities in the arts in other cities. That said, "diversity" can indeed encompass so much more than color. Encouraging diversity in our audiences requires representing a diverse group of performers, but performers tend to create art for the audience they know, so if your targeted "diverse" performer isn't in your audience already, he/she won't be coming to your stage any time soon. There must be an invitation of sorts. Go see work by artists YOU want to represent and invite them to see your own work. OOB smiths its own theater. It is in your power to be the change you want to see in theater.

  7. wow. these are some great insights. I am interested in the concern by "anonymous" about the challenge of going after diverse performers who are in high demand. And I agree with the sentiments expressed by Joey about being Pro-active in efforts to diversify. In other words, it takes a time and work to create this bridges, and beyond getting one person to appear in a specific production - it is about building an artistic connection, a relationship. I've found that to cultivate artists in high demand (of color or otherwise) its great practice to go and see them a few times first. Also, it might be too much of a commitment to have someone star in a full run of a show, but there are other ways to have people participate - they can host a talk-back one evening, they can be a special invited guest, they can be part of a panel...there's lots of ways...